Telling Saint Stories
Most of my thoughts and stories that I refer to were inspired by the live and taped performances of Milbre Burch.
One of my objectives as storyteller is to dust off the ancient stories of our heroes and heroines of the church. There are many collections of "saint stories". But what makes a story compelling? Although my background is from the Catholic tradition, a storyteller from any tradition could use these suggestions to make the stories more attractive to today's listeners.
The following list recommends ways to update these stories:
1. HISTORICAL NARRATIVE (docudrama - to use a "t.v.ism")
Look for an outstanding event - one in which everyone can identify. Ex. In St. Odelia, Milbre uses the fact that the blind child was not named. This is a recurrent theme throughout the story. Names are so important and living without one is something in which everyone can relate.
Add dialogue - it makes it as if the listener is privy to private conversations or even gossip.
Add a few well-crafted metaphors and imagery, but don't get bogged down with details. Keep your story on track for it's the listener's responsibility to "fill-in" with his/her experiences. This is one of the major differences between story telling and story writing.
Make the story humorous and sentimental and thought-provoking and sad. Take your listeners on a "roller coaster ride" of emotions. However, your story can also be too funny or syrupy or sophisticated. You need to learn a happy balance.
2. UPDATE (time and place)
Often stories or so old that the story seems to lose its relevance. If you take the same story and put in today's setting with recognizable characters, it suddenly takes on new meaning.
Ex. St. Martin of Tours - Milbre talks about the saint (in narrative) for a few minutes. Then she tells a story about a present-day homeless man living in New Hampshire. When I heard her tell this story, I was inspired to tell my story "St. Francis, As I Live and Breathe". The three storytellers in my story are friends of mine.
3. POINT OF VIEW
Don't get stuck in narrative. Close your eyes and imagine the story from the eyes of one of the characters. Ex. In my St. Francis story I preface it with a historical narrative, update it by telling the stories that my storyteller friends have told and change the point of view by retelling the stories from the animals' perspective. When Milbre tells Martin, she uses the first person voice of the homeless man.
4. PERSONALIZE IT
Add some person experience or family story to it. Sometimes it brings the story to life when it is tied in to your own experiences. But don't get bogged down with "The Truth". A little embroidery of the facts or time rearranging never hurt anyone. Ex. Angel of God - The first part is personal experience about my first grade. I don't care that all my recollections are the way that they happened. The spirit of the telling is true. Then I used that personal experience narrative as a lead in to the third person narratives of the angel stories. You may also want to read my paper on Angels called "Angelology."
You can already tell that a good mix can bake a fine story.
http://www.catholic.org/ - scroll down to "saints and angels"